Now that my children are all on Facebook I don’t punish them for misdeeds any more. I just tag them on old family pictures I upload of them pooping at the poolside and the like!
But I was scolded by a friend named Kyra who said that the biggest cause of problems today was people handing out instant punishments without consulting trained negotiators like herself.
She gave this example: France and Iran negotiated a world-saving deal to halt nuclear proliferation last month but fell out over arrangements for the celebratory meal. The Iranian president insisted on an alcohol-free dinner while the shocked leader of France flatly refused to eat without wine.
“I would have simply moved the joint meal part of the ceremony to breakfast: problem solved, world saved,” Kyra said. Good point.
After talking to her, I saw knee-jerk reactions wherever I looked.
A reader sent me a report about a woman in Britain who found a text from her husband’s mistress on the phone he’d left behind. So she sold their house before he got home from his business trip. (Her parents had paid the home-loan deposit so the house was in their names.) The hapless husband arrived back to find strangers living in his home, said the report from the Birmingham Mail newspaper.
Now you have to admit that that instant punishment was risky. What if the “message from the mistress” had been a thoughtless, insensitive prank from the husband’s buddies, a fair possibility given that thoughtlessness and insensitivity have been proudly upheld as the defining attributes of the male sex since time immemorial? (See Caligula, Nero, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun et al)
The following day, a worrying example came from China. A reader sent me a news clip about a young woman who had an argument with her parents. She punished them by moving to an Internet café far away, where she stayed for 10 years.
I am so hiding that article from my children. Ten uninterrupted years playing computer games would be their idea of heaven. May be I’ll even lay off the embarrassing pooping pics for a while. The repercussions might be hard to explain to the wife. Wife: “Where are the kids?” Me: “They’ve all moved to some Internet café in China. Mmm, nice and quiet, isn’t it?” She would probably refuse to see the positive side of it.
But the main reason to avoid knee-jerk reactions is that you’ll regret them later. I’m sure the following conversation happens in many families these days. Dad of newborn: “Darling, we’ve decided that we are going to keep you away from screen-based entertainment so that you can have a healthy, active childhood.” (Time passes.) Dad of two-year-old: “Darling, meet Mr Tablet Computer. You can call him New Daddy.”
Kyra the negotiator says that when you are upset with someone, you should write down how you feel, fold up the paper, put it into a locked chest – and then use the chest to beat your enemy to death! Okay, I made up the last bit, but in mitigation, I would just like to point out that I am male.
(Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveller. Send comments via his Facebook page)